Reverend William J. O’Malley, the Jesuit teacher who became a minor celebrity after playing Father Dyer in The Exorcist, has been accused of sexually abusing one of his former students at the McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, New York.
The former student, identified only by the initials “J.W.,” accused O’Malley of abusing him “multiple times” in 1985 and 1986 when he was 17 years old. J.W. claimed the alleged abuse took place in McQuaid classrooms or hallways, while other incidents occurred at school-sponsored activities, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports (via USA Today).
J.W.’s allegation surfaced in a massive complaint filed Wednesday, which marked the first day under a new New York law that allowed alleged victims to bring up legal action in old sexual abuse cases. In the suit, J.W. claimed O’Malley’s alleged abuse caused him “severe emotional and psychological distress, humiliation, fright dissociation, anger, depression, anxiety, family turmoil and loss of faith.”
O’Malley started working at McQuaid in 1965, teaching English and religion and also serving as the school’s drama director. He was a beloved member of the school staff, and his stature only grew after his star-making turn as Father Joseph Dyer in The Exorcist, which was released in 1973. While the film allowed O’Malley to enjoy some of the fruits of fame and take some time off from teaching to explore acting and writing, he eventually returned to McQuaid in 1975, telling the Democrat and Chronicle at the time, “I was a moonlight actor, but I’m a teacher. My life is with the kids.”
O’Malley left McQuaid and began teaching at the Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx at the start of the 1986 – 1987 school year, one year after the alleged abuse at McQuaid took place. In 2012, O’Malley was let go from Fordham Prep, with the school president telling the New York Post that his teaching style “was probably more abrasive than we are used to.”
A spokesman for McQuaid told the Democrat and Chronicle that the school had no record of any sexual abuse allegations or offenses involving O’Malley, adding they only learned about the allegation when the suit was filed this week. A spokesman for the Jesuit province for the Northeast also denied knowing about any allegations against O’Malley. However, the Democrat and Chronicle previously raised questions about how McQuade and the province have handled their responses to sexual abuse in an extensive report published in January.
O’Malley is currently 87 years old, and lives in the Jesuit community at Fordham University, which is part of the New York Province of Jesuits. A representative for the New York Province did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.